Acne vulgaris, commonly called acne, is a chronic skin condition that consists of blemishes, blackheads, whiteheads, pimples (zits) and, sometimes, deeper lumps called nodules or cysts. It occurs when sebum (oil) and dead skin cells clog pores. Acne vulgaris is the most common skin disease in the United States. It can present as a mild form with just a few red spots or pimples or a more severe form with multiple lesions and lumps that can be quite painful. It most often occurs on the face, but can cover the neck, chest, shoulders and back.
There are four primary factors that cause acne vulgaris: dead skin cells, excessive oil production, clogged pores and bacteria. As mentioned above, it typically appears on the face and upper torso. These areas of skin have the most oil (sebaceous) glands. Hair follicles are connected to oil glands, which secrete oil (sebum) to lubricate skin and hair. The oil usually travels along the hair shafts to the skin surface through the openings of the hair shafts (types of pores). When the body produces too much oil and dead skin cells, they can build up in the hair follicles and form clogs. These clogs create an environment where bacteria can thrive. If the clogged pores become infected with bacteria, inflammation results. The inflammation may present as red areas, blemishes, blackheads, whiteheads, pimples or cysts, collectively known as acne vulgaris.
Acne vulgaris most often affects males and females in their teens. However, it is more common among males during adolescence and among females in adulthood. Adolescent acne usually begins with the onset of puberty, when hormonal changes make the skin oilier. Acne vulgaris is not limited to teens. Twelve percent of females and 5% of males in their mid-twenties have acne. By their mid-forties approximately five percent of both men and women still have acne.
There are many types of acne that affect many ethnicities, but acne vulgaris is most prevalent in North American Caucasians. It affects an estimated eighty percent of Americans at some time during their lives. Roughly one fourth of them experience a severe form of the disease that can cause permanent physical and mental scarring. It is associated with depression and anxiety regardless of the severity of the condition.